Calgary’s downtown core suffering through 1980s-style recession

Click to play video: 'Back to the Future: Some downtown Calgary office subleases at prices not seen since the 1980’s' Back to the Future: Some downtown Calgary office subleases at prices not seen since the 1980’s
WATCH ABOVE: With the office vacancy rates in Downtown Calgary near 30%, some say it’s time to tear it down and rebuild. Global’s Gary Bobrovitz reports – Jan 13, 2017

Some commercial realtors say it’s déjà vu for Calgary’s downtown core.

They say rents for some buildings are flirting with levels seen over 30 years ago.

“For a short-term sublease, [we’re seeing] anywhere from $15 to $20 a square foot in total and in the economic heyday, that same space would have been $50 to $55,” Greg Kwong of CBRE Commercial Real Estate said.  “So it’s a real bargain.”

READ MORE: Nearly one third of Calgary’s office space could be empty by 2018, says real estate firm

Currently, there’s almost a 30 per cent vacancy rate for core office towers, double-digit unemployment and oil prices are in the dumps, Kwong added.

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It was much the same story back in the early 1980s, when the city went through another round of economic hard times.

And the city centre is getting hit hard again.

READ MORE: 20% of Calgary downtown office space vacant, highest level in over 30 years

In light of the slump, two downtown Calgary city councillors are hoping their colleagues will support a proposal to look for ways to breathe new life into the core.

Druh Farrell and Evan Woolley are pushing for a downtown economic summit.

READ MORE: Layoff protection offered by Alberta condo project to increase sales

Farrell said downtown Calgary was built on the back of a single industry–oil–and the time has come to diversify.

“We need to look at all sorts of strategies in order to bring our downtown back,” she said.

Watch below: Calgary city councillor Druh Farrell says the vacancy in the downtown core is negatively affecting money usually raised by parking and transit and the city needs to look at a different way to raise municipal revenues. Doug Vaessen has the details.

Click to play video: '2 Calgary councillors push for downtown economic summit' 2 Calgary councillors push for downtown economic summit
2 Calgary councillors push for downtown economic summit – Jan 13, 2017

She said any idea will have to be on the table, including tax holidays to business incubators and relaxed zoning laws.

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“We need to bring a whole bunch of thinkers together and…if there are regulations in the way, let’s get out of the way.”

Farrell said many downtown buildings are in poor shape and would be costly to demolish or retrofit.

“How do you attract new industries like high tech? They want something different than what’s there. These are incredibly challenging questions and this is a long-term strategy that we need.”

The two will make their pitch during Monday’s council meeting.

If the rest of council backs the idea, it’s expected the one-day summit would be held in February.

The goal would be to bring together small business owners, real estate experts, various levels of government and industry associations.

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